Thursday, December 26, 2013

Off the Shelf Archive~December

One of our Christmas pastimes this year was watching a few movies we picked up at the used book store. Among the usual uneven lot of hits and misses was a flick called The Raven, starring John Cusack, and it was a pretty terrible film, yet Cusack gave a rather endearing, if historically less-than-accurate portrayal of Poe, complete with pet racoon and raven, in the days shortly before his mysterious death, the explanation for which no one has so far discovered. (The one contrived for the film was definitely ingenious, if hardly believable.)

All this reminded me that I have not continued with my spotlight on that author very assiduously, so I have here

 on the Off The Shelf Page, the second selection in my Poe-a-thon, called,  Alone.

~ * ~

Below is last month's poem, exhumed for a final reading before being interred ("For the love of God, Montresor!") in the archival vaults: Spirits Of The Dead.

Spirits of the Dead

by Edgar Allen Poe

Thy soul shall find itself alone
'Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness- for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.

The night, though clear, shall frown,
And the stars shall not look down
From their high thrones in the Heaven
With light like hope to mortals given,
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne'er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more, like dew-drop from the grass.

The breeze, the breath of God, is still,
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token.
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

Image: Le Pont de Courbevoie, by Georges Seurat, crayon 1886
Public Domain, via


  1. First -- such a great pairing of the Seurat with the Poe. It says crayon--I guess some kind of charcoal--it's really a beautiful drawing--so cool to see him on a grayscale--and works so beautifully with the poem. I am not such a fan of Poe--really not knowledgeable at all except for the famous ones--and so it is very interesting to see this poem--I have to say it's a kind of a scary portrayal of death--I do not know if I'd want all those burning and unbanishable thoughts--and feels more like the deathly way some of us (I'm speaking of myself) lead our lives--That is itself a mystery of mysteries--why we do that--anyway, thanks--all interesting. K. PS- I have no clue what you mean by the racoon--I should look up. k.

    1. In the film, they gave Poe a very fat pet raccoon--it is apocryphal, I'm sure, but rather endearing. No one has a clue if Poe had any pets. afaik, though I am about to start a new bio of him and maybe will find out. I find the thoughts in this poem very comforting, 'in that solitude/which is not loneliness," for what is loved is never lost.

    2. I am not sure--there's definitely a comforting aspect--but I find the thought of the stars like a burning fever a little worrisome--but they won't look down so maybe he is describing the lifetime version. Also--and here my penchant for punctuation comes in and also my ignorance of Poe and how he breaks up lines--From thy spirit shall they pass/No more, like dew drops from the grass.

      What I can't tell is whether this means that they (those thoughts you can't banish) will not trouble you more--that is probably right--like dew drops from the grass-- just evaporating--or whether they will never pass away from you and you'll be stuck with them forever. I think the comforting meaning is probably the right one--which is probably more in line with your thinking- Also he does have a period in there, so I probably just jumped unnecessarily into gloom--I would hate to have certain thoughts with me forever and ever -- but those would hardly be dew drops--

      I cede to a closer reading, in other words--k.

    3. Well, I agree the wording is quite convoluted, and also open to interpretation--in another poem, Poe uses the phrase 'the fever called living is ended at last...' so I think, like all writers, he may be recurring to a theme here with the red-orbed non-beams and fever being life, a life full of loss, poverty and grief that is a really only a delusional, sorry prelude to something much better, which is what the will of the spirits of the dead, urging him to be still, are trying to communicate--to let the illusions of this life go, and think of the spirits that love him and await him in a better place. (I also think punctuation would be good in the lines you quote, as they can be read either way, but like you I see them as separated by a dash or semi-colon or something, with No more' like his Nevermore, an exclamation appending the statement, not as one sentence continuing ie, 'they shall pass no more'.) But the ending I think expresses so well the idea that whatever we believe or feel, we can never know the 'mystery of mysteries."

      Thanks for your thoughts on this, k--appreciate the discussion. Hope you are getting a break from stress and work.

  2. I keep meaning to pick up The Raven, but I keep forgetting. Maybe that's for the best!

    1. It's worth a watch just for Cusack's performance but the plot is pretty flimsy and there's a lot of gratuitous and not very convincing gore.

  3. In fact, Poe had a pet cat named...Caterina. True!

    1. Ah! *bows to superior knowledge of the Poe historian* No poet can resist a pun, can they? (At least she wasn't named Chrysaios, or Ozymandia or something--the Victorians loved that classical shite.)


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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